We Like a Good Old-Fashioned Hike

On a solemn grey morning, when the skies were beset by heavy clouds and the brows of my husband by equal measures of frowns, we were on our way to Mount Fløyen. A city mountain in Norway.

Lille Lungegårdsvannet, the lake featured in the lead photo and with the unpronounceable name which sits pretty at the centre of the city of Bergen, gives you an idea of the kind of day it was.

A colony of seagulls took flight above our heads, alarmingly low, which meant we had to duck if only for the sake of retaining our scalps — quintessential you see in achieving the climb to Fløyen. Birds taking flight. Ah what a romantic sight ’tis on a sunny morning but under smoky skies it acquire shades of the portentous. Alternately, it reveals the workings of a fanciful imagination.

The afternoon before, we had driven from Norheimsund to Bergen, the gateway to the fjords on the west coast of Norway. Our apartment was near the main wharf so we had time to dawdle over tea and a substantial breakfast. Adi was suitably miffed: How anyone could Imagine the prospect of any kind of activity that required him to climb anything, leave alone a mountain. That was the dilemma. We were in that phase of our travels where Adi had not warmed up to hiking on holidays. It was akin to tailing Tuktuk, our beloved lab, around the house and then dragging him for his bath.

Time and you, with laudable perseverance, may bring about changes in your spouse but watch out for the postscript. When Adi took to hiking holidays, he did so with a vengeance. He led me up hills which no one charts (for a reason) and where the wind in the grass raised my hair and hackles maniacally.

Before I digress into the future, our path from the apartment to Fløyen took us past the busy wharf and the largest church of Bergen in its red-brick Gothic glory and its pristine wooden interiors. My favourite part of admiring a church is to tip my head back and gape at its spire which almost always seems set to pierce the heavens.

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 The 19th-century St. John’s Church 
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Simplicity of its wooden interiors

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It was chilly and people were queuing up for the Fløibanen, the funicular that for the sum of NOK 45 (£4) whisks you up to the top of the mountain in the matter of a few minutes.

But who wants five measly minutes when you can have an hour and a half of panting up steep hills and stairs – in the cheery company of a husband who refuses to let a smile crack his visage. Halfway into the climb we had trudged up a steep hill, past doll-like slatted houses in shades of white and yellow with their orange-red roofs. In the backdrop lay the steely grey waters of the harbour and a church steeple or two.

The contrast was stark when a fat black cat scampered past us. At the same time, Adi chose to lean his head on a pillar and bemoan his fate.

“What kind of a holiday is this? I want beer and food,” he bit out.

“But you just had a big breakfast,” I pointed out righteously.

This charmer of mine stomped ahead in reply. In this mode, we continued up the hill. When we had passed by enough red, black and blue houses with enviable views of the harbour, and we thought that we had done it, that we must surely have reached the top, I skipped up some 100-odd stairs. Turned out, they were the private stairs of a cluster of hillside houses.

Retracing our steps down, we reached the foot of a steep forest path which led into the midst of a pine forest, its grounds primeval and mossy in parts. It could easily pass for an enchanted world where we were the only ones in Troll Forest, or were we? We should have stopped to have a word with the resident trolls but there was no time to be lost. Heavy showers were forecast for the next hour.

If Adi had been spectacularly grumpy, I took over from here. My vast reserves of joy had been depleted because there is only that many tantrums one can weather.

And I will have you know, dear reader, that I can do it with panache too.

Almost magically, Adi’s black mood lifted. Between the two of us, we had handed over the baton of grimness from one to the other with perfect synergy.

It behoved my beloved then to placate me. Legs trembling – unknown muscles in the body had been worked all this while – I suddenly spotted the Fløyenguttene, otherwise known as the Boys of Fløyen behind electrified fences. They were white and horned with innocent faces and baaa-ey measures of conversation. Cashmere goats. Please know their importance in the scheme of things and be dignified in your comportment when you do make their acquaintance. They are employed by the local agencies to keep the vegetation at bay.

A brief look at a bald and squat troll besieged by the crowds and a quick coffee at the café later, we decided to experience the Fløibanen on our way back to the centre of Bergen.

Now when you find yourself in Bergen, and if the heavens do not burst upon you, do skip the funicular. Take the long way up because in life you have at times got to take the winding way up. And if a few of them are dirt, why you have aced it, champ.

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Steep roads that shoot up past these charming cottages

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Need I say anything?
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By the harbour
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Troll Forest
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‘Do not mess with the trolls you meet on this trail. If you meet one, make sure you look at the ground and talk only when talked to.’ (You did not just fall for that surely?)
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At the top where the pine forests lead to the vantage point
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The Fløyen Boy
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The hike with a view

 

Troll Twinning in Hardangervidda

There’s drama in the Norwegian country. It is so replete with it that it seems to be made up of bangs sans the whimpers.

You might arrive at the conclusion that drama peaks at the heart of Eidfjord with the Kjeåsen Mountain Farm but wait awhile unless the lead photo has introduced you to the idea already.  

Let me point out to you that we are in the traditional district of Hardanger. It happened to be a petty kingdom before it was, along with the other minor kingdoms in the country, united under the banners of Harald Fairhair, the first Norwegian king. The reason behind the unification is attributed to that reckless emotion of love. Our Harald wanted to marry the daughter of the king of Hordaland (one of the most important counties in western Norway), Gyda. The fair lady would have none of him till he ruled over all of Norway. Ambitious one, that.

Harald took a decade to achieve this aim but till then he did not cut or comb his hair. He acquired the unfavourable title of ‘Shockhead’/‘Tanglehair’ which he dropped in favour of ‘Fairhair’. After all we cannot see a strong woman like Gyda going for a king with malodorous locks, isn’t it?

Time to snap back from the world of strong queens and besotted kings to the present-day district of Hardanger which is home to two of the country’s important national tourist toutes – the Hardanger Route and the Hardangervidda Route.

The Hardanger route was framed by fruit orchards. Aplenty. The mist persisted in hugging the mountain tops as we took off from the village of Eidfjord. Driving down the Rv7 ( short for Norwegian National Road Riksvei 7) we found ourselves in the valley of Måbødalen. The mountains towered above the hairpin bends in the roads, brooding away in the doom and gloom of the day.

Two paths diverged at a stop which was for an ancient farm at Måbø. Ignoring the path leading down to the building which we had spotted from the road, we made a beeline for the woods instead and arrived upon Måbøvatnet, the lake that adjoins the area. Giant boulders stood in attendance upon the lake, with an accompanying army of smaller rocks, and it was slippery and mossy as the water gurgled by us into the bend around the corner.

The icy waters and slimy outgrowths on the boulders made me yearn for the cosiness of a coffee shop. I am strange, I know. I crave the lap of nature but then I often end up feeling intimidated. On a damp, dark day in the woods, it seems to me that the visible roots of gnarled old trees wait to entwine their solid strength around me. Wiping away all traces of my existence. But let it be sunny. Then the dappled sunlight, the soft harmony of light and shadow as it streams in through the canopy, uplifts the heart.

We got going after and the road kept climbing higher and higher till we reached a point when a wall of mist showed up, dense and impenetrable. We were at Vøringsfossen, one of Norway’s iconic waterfalls. A bouquet of waterfalls of varying degrees of girth, converged into a chasm with thunderous notes. A bus load of Oriental tourists chattered around us excitedly as they hurried to hold their selfie sticks into the air, the Vøringsfossen forming a suitably dramatic backdrop for their self-portraits.

It was our gateway to the flat country that marks Europe’s largest mountain plateau, Hardangervidda. The landscape started changing obviously. At one point in the afternoon, we stopped for a spot of lunch on a summit. The view was that of a broad expanse of marshy land interspersed by lakes and we munched on boiled eggs and sandwiches as the wind tore through our hair and thick jackets.

When I lay my eyes upon such vast tracts of solemn, barren beauty, a wave of loneliness descends upon me. Just like it did whenever I was in the heart of the English moors – the way I felt in Haworth in Brontë country on a grey, grey day. Dark thoughts come swooping in. It is no wonder you feel the presence of the moors seep into the pages of Wuthering Heights

The spell was broken by a group of Norwegian boys and girls who happened upon this parallel world of ours. It did lead us however to my favourite memory of the day, Adi meeting his troll twin. Why no, I am not calling my husband a troll!

Outside a cluster of yellow and red buildings, which happen to be a mountain lodge on Rv 7, stands the Dryanut troll in a red jumpsuit. His sleeves are dark green, the face marked by large eyes and pendulous nose, his hair is white and he wears a toothless old man’s smile. He does look harmless and silly as he peers into the horizon scanning for I know not what. Maybe his troll wife who has been gone long to bring him soup after stirring it well with her bulbous nose? Now if you are offered soup by a troll woman, think twice. She is known to use her nose as a ladle.

Punctuated by the occasional presence of small black or yellow cottages – possibly outposts for fishing and camping – the desolation and primordial air of Hardangervidda clung to us for a couple of hours till we found ourselves quite ready for civilisation.

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Måbøvatnet

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Making our way through sleepy hamlets nestled at the foot of the mountains

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Reaching Vøringsfossen

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Trolls of Vøringsfossen
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The merry double-headed troll
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Vøringsfossen free falls into the chasm below 
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The view from our lunch spot in Hardangervidda
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Making his way to meet the Dryanut Troll
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I shall have to carry my head in my arms for safekeeping when Adi comes across this…but all for the cause.
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Hardangervidda 
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Mingling feelings of exile and desolation hang in the air

 

Mountain Farms Mantled in Mist

Mist did not make itself scarce on our Norwegian vacation in the August of 2016. Our grand plans of hiking Trolltunga – and jumping at the end of the troll’s tongue while aiming not to fall off it – was interrupted by adverse weather. For as you know, it is not a good idea to set out on a hike in slippery conditions when you would need to be hoiked midway through the hike. Airlifts have indeed taken place a few times in Trolltunga. Let me assure you: the authorities do not shower you with kind looks and cupcakes when you are an utter git.

I am a git at the best of times. But I did have the experience of climbing boulders on the way to Pulpit Rock and that made me think twice. Despite all my hankering for Trolltunga, I did bow down to the wayward weather deities. There is no fighting nature for she will have her say. I made plans instead for us to hike up to a mountain farm high above one of the fjords, Simadalsfjord.

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Woody Allen could not have put it better. The weather gods have powers of prescience, I am told. My plans were foiled again.

It was drizzling and it had rained heavily all through the day before. Double drama. We had to abandon all thoughts of the steep climb to Kjeåsen Mountain Farm. The other way up was to drive up a winding road that was constructed in the 1970s — maybe to allow people like me a route into this mountain farm which has been declared the most inaccessible one in the world. No you hike-loving twat, it was built keeping in mind the need for hydroelectricity development. 

The road up a one-way tunnel runs for 3-odd miles, but what it lacks for in length, it makes up in steepness. The tunnel comes across as dark as a subterranean passage because of the lack of lighting. How do they avoid vehicles locking lips here? The authorities have put out strict timings. You can go up at slots that start dot on the hour (such as 9am, 10am, 11am…). The journey down begins at 9.30am, 10.30am…You get the drill. The latest time till which you can drive up is 5pm. There are a handful of people who still live up there on Kjeåsen.

We passed through Hardangerbru, the suspension bridge that spans the length of Eidfjorden (a branch of Hardangerfjorden), and stopped at the hamlet of Eidfjord for a coffee break before we carried on up to Kjeåsen. It was a quiet community – all of 950 people share it between themselves. 

Mountains towered above us, lush beacons of goodness, slender waterfalls tracing their paths down the steep slopes as we wandered around Eidfjord and paused at the port where cruise ships stop before entering Norway’s largest national park, Hardangervidda. I shall take you into its open barrenness in the next post. I will throw in some trolls too to make it good.

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Mists hang low over the fjords

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The mist rolled in and out
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In the hamlet of Eidfjord
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Mesmerised by the mountains that loom over Eidfjord
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Winding roads that lead to the old mountain farm

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Be sure to say hello to his bearded contemplative personality and spare some tobacco
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The hamlet sits by a branch of the Hardangerfjorden
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Views from Eidfjord of the surrounding mountains and the tiny communities
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The area around Simadal Power Plant in the valley below the farm
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Gushing falls
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Mountains around Sima Power Plant

When we reached the foot of the road near Sima Power Plant, we were part of a queue of cars that had lined up to start the one-way journey on the hour. The cars have to maintain German-sharp timelines. After a tortuous drive (which is still less crazier than the Scafell Pike drive in the Lake District of England), we were walking through wild fields.

Veils of mist hung above us. As we carried on climbing, the mountain tops appeared to let off steam. Ancient, all-imposing.

For 400 years, the farm has had inhabitants who eked out their existence from the rich soil and forests through hunting and fishing. The story goes that the farms which stand in solitary glory at the top of the mountains were built during a lengthy period spanning three decades. The hardy people who lived there had to carry planks of wood, stone and building materials up the slopes. Their children had to attend school in Simadal below in summer. They lived with their relatives in the valley during the winter months when the paths leading up and down the mountains became too risky for them to chart. I could almost feel the sorrow that would have filled their tiny hearts as they pined away for their folks and the spectacular place they called home.

High above the fjord, shivering in the cold, we walked past the farm and stared at the surrounding mountains which plunged into the fjord. The waters were not smoky blue or steely grey. They were on the brink of turning a deep bluish-green.

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Fjords, mountains, mists, waterfalls, lonely farms. We were caught in the clutches of time.

 

 

 

 

The Art of Chilling

When I say chilling, I mean Nothing. Let me relent here because there are the basic functions of living to be considered. Breathing, eating, checking into the loo and the works. Then there is the glorious prospect of gazing dreamily into the fjords beyond the windows, sighing from time to time, because you could live with such a view for a long time. As long as you lived.

Add a lifetime’s supply of books, coffee, tea, husband, hikes and two dogs. Now did I just describe Els’ life?

But before you get down to the art of perfecting nought, there is a condition that has to be met. The weather gods will have to conspire to make the heavens burst asunder till you will have no option but to sit tight within. If you are in a cottage by the fjords would you even consider complaining about thunders and showers?

The first day of our Norwegian vacation was about sparkling blue skies and froths of clouds. As a cloud chaser, I could not have asked for a better start. The second day materialised as an overwhelmingly grey prospect. That dirty, washed-out hue which can only cast long grey shadows upon the mind. But happiness is a state of the mind you have got to court. As Anne (of the Green Gables) claimed: “It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.” You do need inspiration to make light of the weighty moments in life.

But you shall need to give into sadness and woe too because those are inescapable emotions. What kind of a person would you be if you did jigs at a funeral? (which makes me think that I would want people to dance at mine, tuck into piles of good food and drink away. Life is too short to allocate enough time to ennui and glumness.)

Leaving thoughts of mortality behind — it is a Sunday after all — and I do not want to make you too contemplative on a day that should be about nothing really.

It is a feat to achieve nothing on a holiday. I have rarely indulged in such a feeling and it felt grand. Delicious. But before setting about it, we had to gather provisions from a supermarket beneath leaden skies because realisation had rapidly set in upon us during our time in Stavanger about the pocket-ripping dangers of eating outside in Norway. Now don’t get me wrong. No one’s waiting to slash your pockets and mug you. Heavens, but this is Norway, folks! Get a grip. I mean simply that you eat indoors unless you want to risk heading back home as paupers. Eating in and carrying packed lunches on our drives were going to be part of the essential ritual of roaming around Norway.

Mist swirled in and around the bridge nearby like wraiths smoking their way through, parts of the bridge disappearing behind the mist. Nature is an effortless magician. That morning I was reminded of the first time I had laid my eyes upon the Eiffel Tower on an autumn’s morning, when only the top of the tower loomed above a sea of mist. The waters of the fjords were mysterious, a uniform sheet of smoky blue.

Right, time to scamper back to the cottage, after we had armed ourselves with a decent stockpile of food. There was the added incentive of demolishing a cache of organic chocolates I had amassed at the store. Those chocolates count high on my list of worthy chocoholic experiences. They were expensive and Adi grumbled, but later, he ate humble pie and those bars too, with lasciviousness equalling mine.

Upon our return to the cottage, we found waiting at the door, a pot of mint and a couple of organic eggs with a hand-written note. A welcome breakfast note from Els. Now, if you have not added mint to your omelette, you would not know about the heady fragrance it lends to the eggs. We went about a brunch laden with hot dogs and eggs, all the while facing the fjords so as not to lose out on the changing landscape that unfolded before the eyes. Adi watched movies on the ipad, and I sat and read, looking up from time to time to soak in the unreality of it all.

Then came the best part of the day. Els dropped by with organic chicken from her farm. She sat for a couple of hours, her legs folded up on the sheepskin rug upon the couch. And we chatted. It is rare to come upon individuals with whom you can achieve a connection effortlessly. She was of that breed. Highly unconventional, a bit flighty, a bit wise and a bundle of quirks. We shared confidences during that time to the tune of a few cups of tea, discussing husbands, the importance of fighting in a relationship, meeting the loves of our lives, hiking, travelling and then reflecting upon the art of how to go about making this one life we have a wonderful happy place to be.

Giving into the whims of nature, it turned out that day, can be a rum idea.

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‘What Do I Think About Art’

In between rushing to stores, gobbling up pizzas and giant cookies, while setting up our new apartment to the tune of endless cups of Lady Grey tea, I came upon this cutesy tag courtesy Angela. Interesting and innovative. An art tag! But I had to do it asap before I lost steam and let it slip to the bottom of the pile. Thank you Angela, I had fun going about this tag.

Here I introduce you to the “What Do I Think About Art” tag.

Rules:

  • Copy the piece of art given to you by the nominator into the post and these rules
  • Analyse the piece of art given to you and what it means to you (you can be as abstract as you like)
  • Nominate five people to analyse another piece of art of your choice

The lead photo is the one that I was tagged to analyse by Angela.

It is an example of going green on a whole different level, eh. You see the cityscape in the backdrop – ’tis the picture of barrenness, a leaf or two sticking out here and there. Maybe more than a leaf, but hey, I am permitted a smidgen of exaggeration surely by dint of the fact that if art allows us to stretch our imagination we can let it seep into into our words too.

Okay, so we all need green. More so in the cities.

How do we go about it? We grow a green bush on our head. That is the best way of getting your own personal bit of green on this planet where world leaders with exceptional vision denounce the concept of global warming as a weapon for hoodwinking the masses.

Right, so our man is a self-sufficient personality. But watch out for that brush in his hand. Could it be that there might be an itchy witchy feeling creeping up on him and that all is not as well as Mister Smug (just look at his expression) might claim to all and sundry?

“The streets are empty and here’s my chance to go berserk,” he sniggers as he sneaks the brush into his green pate. He is about to have a real good go at it just like a scratchy sheep makes a go of it against a fence or a highland cow rubs its massive horns against dry stone walls. You get the picture, I suppose. I shall let it rest there.

I would love to hear your take on the piece too.

Deconstructing art takes me back to the beginning of my feature reporting days when I used to be bundled off to art exhibitions to interview artists. Artists are the kind of professionals I never felt uncomfortable around. It was easy to feel gauche around fashion designers, hoity-toity actors and egoistic sport stars, but with artists, no way. It seemed to me, during those long conversations, that they were suspended in the cloudy realms of their heads from where they need time to wade out at ease. So yes, I could take my time.

Art is also supposed to be individual. You can imagine my delight that there was no censure. That I could sit there and come up with bizarre interpretations. Thus you have the logic behind my view of Angela’s street art piece.

Below is my piece for you. I clicked it in Jersey City downtown the other day. Would you care to analyse it? If yes, you can do a post on it, or just leave your interpretation in the comments section. Going beyond the stated number, I nominate you all. Humour me?

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Getting to Flåm

The road to Flåm from Gudvangen has opportunities for deep sleep. The kind of sleep that is delicious, because like all forbidden things that carry the tag of deep delight, it is not a good idea to nod off behind the wheel and in the middle of a tunnel. For one, you stand the risk of disappearing into another realm – akin to the road safety warnings that pop up all over the Norwegian country. Of a girl fading away. That road sign gave me the heebie-jeebies. You shall spot it in the roll-call of photos below.

There is also the unappetising thought that there would no possibility of a picture-perfect village tucked into a valley encircled by steep mountains, no ooh-ing and aah-ing at thundering waterfalls in close quarters and trying to catch a reflection of the self in the emerald waters of the fjord. Instead there would be a foray into the vast unknown.

The purpose of the extensive prattle is to lay it thick that tunnels in the Norwegian country can and will call upon your patience. We had passed a fair line-up of tunnels starting from Norheimsund that morning. The fatigue was setting in fast as we had woken up at a ghastly hour, when only lost souls and drunks roam the streets of Northampton, to make the journey to Heathrow. As much as it was bang for your buck to take these early-morning flights into Europe, it also meant that we were sleep-starved zombies walking around in a kind of stupor on the first day of all our trips.

The Gudvangen Tunnel stretched out for 7.1 miles, and despite a weakness of finding childlike joy in every little thing that life throws my way, which includes tunnels lit up in psychedelic colours, I wanted to scream with frustration. You see, we had to take the tunnel twice over. Now the tunnels lead into each other in quick succession often, cutting through hills, and there is no space for error while driving on these roads. Part of the fault lay in the fact that we could not identify Gudvangen and kept wondering if we had missed it along the way.

By the time we got to Flåm (pronounced ‘Flaam’, where ‘aa’ is enunciated as in London), we were two wilted humans. It was the sight of the man and the woman sitting on the bench by the fjord with their cups of coffee that made us sit up. The pretty yellow cottages with their red roofs beckoned to us. Somewhere inside one of those cottages life-affirming coffee awaited us. And a bite to eat possibly. The deal with eating in Norway is that your heart shall be in your mouth. I know I repeat myself if you have read one of my earlier posts. But a medium-small pizza marked up at £25 (roughly 270 NOK) is enough to send anyone’s blood pressure rocketing up. But what needs be must be.

Flåm by itself is an unassuming village made up of a small bridge, a handful of eateries and a public toilet, all of which stand at the end of an arm of the second-longest fjord in the world, the Sognefjord. But the most important thing that you need to know is that it is a gateway to a world of unparalleled beauty.

First on the list is the Flåm Railway. It has been touted to be one of the world’s best train journeys. It spans 12 miles cutting through mountain tops while offering you spectacular views of fjords, ravines, waterfalls and mountain farms. The whole gamut. We could not take it. It is on my mind that we shall return to Flåm, take the Flåm railway into the mountains and hike to Trolltunga.

The second possibility for all you lovers of hiking is to go up into the mountains and explore Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord, known to be the world’s narrowest fjord. Imagine standing on the cliffs and peering down into the glassy waters of the fjords. It is bliss. I can vouch for that. If there is one hike you want to do in Norway, however, make your way to Pulpit Rock. You shall remember it forever, as long as you live.

Bikers have the option of setting off on the Rallarvegen, an old works road that runs along the Bergen and Flåm Railway. It is called The Navvies’ Road because it was the construction road used to build the Bergen railway tracks. Bicycles are available for rent at Haugastøl, Finse and Flåm and accommodations too. You would possibly want the option of resting tired muscles out on a 50-mile long route. Just keep in mind that the season is between July to September.

It is only when you find yourself in a certain situation that you appreciate words that have been spoken by another person in another age. You identify with a complete stranger. Flåm put me in mind of Lord Byron. For he had observed: “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more. Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. Nature always wears the colours of the spirit.”

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Norwegian countryside 
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Cautionary signs
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Driving on the roads of Norway. Everyone drives in a sane, well-ordered manner, but once the clock strikes six, something comes over the Norwegians. They speed up and transform into Grand Prix drivers. A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kinda situation crops up. Go figure.
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Reed-thin waterfalls stream their way down the mountains 
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Flåm
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The lovely cottages in Flåm
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By the fjords in Flåm
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Exiting Flåm
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Quaint mountain cottages
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Toodles, till the next tale from Norway.

 

Mattress Hunting in New York City

The business of setting up home is a strange blend of weariness and exhilaration. I find myself oscillating between these two extremes as the process kicks off. On Saturday we made our way to Macy’s at Herald Square. If you are not from this country, you need to know that it is the iconic American departmental store that sets the heart of the locals throbbing (you can call me out on this one if you are not a fan, but what are the chances of that, eh?).

The idea behind spending time at Macy’s was to throw ourselves on mattresses stuffed with all kinds of memory foams, promising firmness in varying degrees. Adi is firm about it being firm, you see.

And throw ourselves we did, Adi with immense pleasure, I with reserve. The idea of laying back, turning around over and over, while pretending to be laying on my own bed when in reality it is within a department store, however hallowed its halls might be, is disconcerting. Never mind the woman on the next mattress in her yellow sundress taking her shoes off to lay on her stomach and change angles as she decides what works for her. Now that is the way you buy a mattress. I know it, okay? But I cannot and shall not fall in line. I have Adi to do it on my behalf.

Soon came the tut-tutting of the saleswoman guiding us through the sacred rituals of choosing The Mattress. This grey-haired matriarchal figure was not in the least like our cordial little Mrs Marple. She cast a gimlet eye upon me, observing, “I’ve been noticing that you are standing around for the most part, while your husband tests mattresses out.”

Adi got his chit of approval and showed me all of his shining teeth. I was the sheepish one.

Then came the deal breaker. The part where all kind of hearts, young and old, stumble and fall. Prices.

Adi’s grin started fading bit by bit. Till it was time to take ourselves out of the vicinity of those rectangular beacons of firmness to think sanely. In almost every situation in life, when you feel overwhelmed, it helps to take a step or a few steps aside, and just let it be.

That is what we did, and the result was that while sauntering down the all-important doyen of avenues, Fifth Avenue, we espied a store that declared itself to be Mattress Firm. ‘Surely a sign’, we thought to ourselves, and entered the store past a bunch of police crowd control barriers, wooden, blue and pretty. A sign that Fifth Avenue had been the venue of a parade earlier on in the day.

An old-world lift whisked us into a massive hall which was a picture of neatness, stacked with rows and columns of mattresses, boxsprings, and more mattresses. A head popped out of the corner accompanied by a grin and a booming voice. “You folks are the first people to step in, so come here quick. Give me a hug! Let’s have a group hug, y’all.”

Javon was his name and he pronounced it as Gio-vaan as he engulfed the two of us in his big arms and gave us a tight hug.

A start with a hugging salesman. Prophetic of good times to come? It was certainly symbiotic for both parties – we got our mattress – and good on Javon, he made a sale without breaking a sweat. He added to the experience by giving us tips. How to catch the best views of NYC while sitting atop rooftop bars, which burgers to chomp on, the best track for running in Central Park, meeting celebrities like Julianne Moore (who had apparently inclined her head to let him know that it was indeed her). He also mentioned his momma who lives in Little Italy in the Bronx.

Now this Italian neighbourhood is not the same as Little Italy of Lower Manhattan. The Bronx one is the original they say, and no, the Italian mafia has not sunk its claws into it because its notoriety means that even the dons took a step back. Which is not to say that there are no mobs around.

On our first day in Jersey City, we had met a burly and chatty cab driver who drove us into Manhattan. He had alluded to the infamous Bronx as he noted, “Two blocks up and down my house in Newark, it is not quite safe. But then I have lived in the Bronx. I know how to take care of myself.”

We shall go one day to the Bronx. Before which I shall arm myself with copious quantities of coffee to steel the nerve.

Back in Javon’s Fifth Avenue hood, two hours passed by in a whirl of nattering. The perfect salesman had done his job sans judgement on my refusal to sink into the mattresses. And we had snagged us a deal that was a neat thousand dollars cheaper than Macy’s. The business of achieving the perfect sleep dealt with, we strolled down Fifth Avenue where we greedily grabbed bags of dark Lindt chocolate and indulged in fashion dilemmas in Adi’s dearest Abercrombie & Fitch store – ‘Why I am in the flagship store!’ he remarked with awe — because he had made it a point to drag me to all of its European locations. This was followed by a long-drawn dinner of delicious Indian fare at Moti Mahal.

The euphoric moment of the day was unplanned – it lay in the transition from daylight to dusk.

New York at night. Those of you who have walked its bedazzled streets by night know this that the city knows how to work it once dusk falls like no other. Oh, the streets were a miasma of activity. Women came out in throngs in lovely dresses, tipsy boys hollered around the streets, pretty young women waited in dimly-lit sidewalk cafes (waiting for their dates?), dogs sat patiently in bicycle trailers as their owners whizzed along the roads, and people spilled onto the streets, diving into drinks and appetizers at cocktail bars. Yellow cabs rushed by us with passengers and Hello Dolly ads as the balmy night air caressed our hair and welcomed us to the city.

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Herald Street in Manhattan
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And that’s not even the tallest building in NY 
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Insights into its colonial past
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By dint of habit and height, every photograph tends to be vertical here
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Remnants of barricades and parades
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The Chrysler Building. A marvellous dream in Art Deco was conceived as the headquarters of the car manufacturer, but it was built by Walter Chrysler, the founder, using his personal funds because he wanted his descendants to inherit it.
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Down glitzy Fifth Avenue where the brands come flying at you, fast and furious.
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Rockefeller center. Artist Jeff Koons has installed a 45-foot high inflatable art installation. Meet the Seated Ballerina. She towers above onlookers and engages with them in conversation to raise awareness for missing children.
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Ornate doors 
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Ahem!
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Life passes by in a blur down Fifth Avenue
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Churches along the way

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Creamy malai tikkas at Moti Mahal
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Butter naan
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…and butter chicken. You have got to work off all that walking around the city with rich food. Importantly, Adi threw a fit about missing Indian food. Do not mess with a hungry husband.
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Delicious rolls to whisk you into the alleys of Calcutta. The original Kati Roll company of New York. It was one of our regular haunts in London.
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Atmospheric cocktail bars rub shoulders with temples
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Leafy city neighbourhoods
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When just like that nostalgia kicks in

Friday Thoughts on Carpe Diem

‘To His Coy Mistress’

Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
       But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
      Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

 

Smile

“If you haven’t seen your wife smile at a traffic cop, you haven’t seen her smile her prettiest,” said an American journalist called Kin Hubbard once. He has been gone a long while now but this man was funny. Look at another example of his wit, “Don’t knock th’ weather. Nine-tenths o’ th’ people couldn’ start a conversation if it didn’ change once in a while.”

See what I just did. Rambled at the beginning of a tag. Sigh.

I was tagged by the beauteous Kristyn who makes me roar with laughter. Lion roars. Thank you, Kristyn, I truly had a wonderful time taking part in this tag.

This is The SMILE TAG and I am going to tell you how it works before I get going.

Ciarralorren, creator of The SMILE Tag, wants to see your smiles! If you are nominated for this tag (which I hope all of you are), then simply post a photo of yourself smiling! There really are no rules for this tag. You can post as many pictures with as many people as you’d like solely under the condition that you are smiling in the photo or looking back at the photo makes you smile. It’s really quite simple. If you’d like, also share the story or stories behind the photos you post to let your followers gain more of an insight of who you are and what makes you happy. Or don’t. It’s really up to you. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter how you interpret this tag, so long as you spread joy and happiness around the Internet and in doing so within your own life. Let’s all be happy and share our smiles!

Just keep the tagging along and TOGETHER, let’s create a mass movement of happiness! So start posting and tagging people now! Go, go, go!!

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The Telegraph India, Delhi. September 2009. With one of my closest friends in office. It seems a lifetime ago that we used to spend all our time eating, giggling, shopping and being silly apart from stressing about coming up with story ideas for ghastly idea meetings.  
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Delhi, May, 2013. A goofy moment of cupcakes and coffee in Khan Market which is one of the best hangouts in the city. This was in a cafe called Choko La where the cupcakes were a dream and therefore it was my choice of coffee and conversations with one of my dearest friends.
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Gower Peninsula, Wales. June 2011. This was the first time we had reached the Rhossili Bay of the gales and gusts, where to stand still on the cliffs and not to be blown away is an achievement.
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Delhi, December 2011. On a cold December’s night, we had our first cocktail party for the wedding, thrown by my generous in-laws for us at a beautiful garden restaurant called Magique. The food was delectable and the drinks flowed. How they flowed. Adi had to be carted back home at the end of the party because his friends poured shots down his throat. 
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Floatel, Calcutta, December 2011. A photo marked by relief. That my groom had reached Calcutta at all with his entire party of friends and family. The train from Delhi to Calcutta had been delayed for hours because of foggy conditions. So the night before Adi had to book a flight for everyone to make it in time for the cocktail party and the wedding. This shot is from the cocktail party which was thrown by my parents at a floating venue on the Hooghly river. The best thing was that it was night and you did not have to admire the incredibly muddy waters of the Hooghly. Oh, but it was pure magic. It was about dancing the night away.
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A shot from the cocktail party with my brother and his wife. And no, I do not look like him.
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With my four closest friends. The one on the extreme left was always my cupcake and coffee friend. The other two lovelies on each side of me are my former flatmates. They know me as well as one would know another when they have lived together. 
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Dec 11, 2011. The wedding. It is an urban myth that Indian brides are coy. I for one had no chance to play the part since I was micro-managing the wedding. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. But our family priest wed us by chanting away mantras and interspersing them with his funny asides. We had such fun getting married. We had not expected it.
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There were many tears and fears. Firstly, the photographer had forgotten the simple fact that he had to turn up. This was my newspaper’s photographer and I had great faith in him. “The wedding is today, is it?” he asked in an incredulous tone. Now this happened as I sat to get married. “Yes you cutlet! Get your behind here, NOW,” was what I wanted to scream. However to unleash bridezilla in public is not convenient. I bit out words into the phone, “If you can please just get here.” Secondly, there was the videographer. Another talented man. He found his way to some other wedding and started shooting it because he was convinced it was ours. Both these tools turned up midway through the wedding rituals. Most of my wedding photos, as a result, were taken by my journalist friend who is an excellent photographer-documentary maker. Thirdly, I had arranged a phuchka (water balls – street food) stall. No surprises. It did not turn up. Therein lay the three reasons I could not be a coy bride.
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The Isle of Wight. October 2012. We went camping by the sea at a time when most sane people would avoid pitching tents on the edge of a cliff. The other tents were occupied by our friends and I was never happier than when the sun rose. Evenings saw me almost weeping with misery when I could spare tears from shivering.
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Durga Puja, Calcutta. October 2016. The puja was held at my home this year. It is a 250-year-old family affair that is rotated amongst our uncles and us. It is that one time of the year when my whole heart belongs to Calcutta. The sun mellows, the breeze picks up and the kaash phool (wild sugarcane grass) sways its white feathery heads in the breeze when Goddess Durga comes visiting Calcutta with great pomp. I am not religious in the least but this festival does it for me. It is about dressing up in new clothes, gorging on delicious food all through the day, meeting friends and spending time with family. Those are my cousin sisters-in-law, who look sane but are quite not all there. So, it is easy to love them.
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Santa Teresa Gallura, Sardinia. March 2015. Windblown in Santa Teresa Gallura, a beautiful beach town in Sardinia, with friends. I miss my overgrown pixie cut.
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Hatching plans to steal Vespas in the alleys of Alghero, Sardinia.
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December 2013. The last time Adi put his arms around Tuktuk. I will never forget that like an oaf I did not travel with him to meet our beloved boy. He passed away early in 2014. We were sleeping in Mechelen, Belgium, when we got the call in the wee hours of the morning.
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Pulpit Rock, Norway. August 2015. The best hike we have ever done. We had almost given up on  taking the flight to Stavanger the night before because the weather forecast was doleful. Then the woman at the other end uttered her magical Norwegian belief, “There’s nothing like bad weather, only bad clothes.” We gave in. The result was that I got to dangle my legs off Pulpit Rock for a brief while before a nervous Adi barked at me that he was not ready yet to lose his wife. You see, it is easy to fall in love with Norway.
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Holyhead, Wales. April 2013. My sister-in-law was visiting us and we had driven down to Wales to one of our favourite lighthouses which is supposed to be haunted. It is there that I met this big boy. Now, I have long conversations with horses. When they perk up their ears and seem interested, it is rude not to talk, don’t you think? Plus it is not easy to find patient ears. My niece now sees horses and thinks of me. I have a reputation to maintain.

Happiness nestles right under your nose when you smile. Have you noticed that? Now if you feel like dredging up some memories to share them and smile, why just fire away.

Finding Home: Because It isn’t a Place, It’s a Feeling

When I was younger, I would not have dreamt that I would get to live in different continents. Life is an extraordinary adventure if you come to think of it. Did you ever imagine that you would live the life you are living right now? If it has come through for you, just as you conceived it to be, then you have clearly thought it through and life is falling in line with your vision of it. For some like me, it is about change.

When I moved from India to the Blighty, the transition was seamless. I experienced zilch homesickness. I bounce back quickly, you see, from most situations in life. I had left behind my job as a journalist and a hoard of friends who were my lifeline and there were moments of disquiet, for who does not have them.  Yet I was hopping with excitement because Adi and I had been married for all of six months and we were all agog to set up our brand new home together in a new country. It took no time to find our groove.

“Grooves … hide in the local shops and faces that become familiar,” says Lyz. I could not have put it better.

Thus it is that I find this tremendous ache whenever I think of our life in Northampton. The crux of it lies in the people who cropped up in our daily lives. Adi is missing his colleagues, especially his friend S, who remarked upon our change with his own typical brand of humour: “Here you are changing entire countries. I need time getting used to a new shampoo.” This is the same gentleman who had travelled incessantly from London to Brighton, to and fro, after a Friday Night in town.

My points of weakness revolve around the people of Northampton. The grocers I chatted with every day at the fresh market, the bespectacled old grocer who hawked his wares and boomed out, “Good to see you, my laydy,” if we had missed seeing each other for a prolonged period of time. Then there was the woman who dished out spicy noodles from her kiosk at the market square, the concierges who sat at the entrance to our apartment block, the girl who ran with the weights on her back in the park and never forgot to mouth a hello or beam as we passed each other, the man at the golf store who always raised a hand when I ran past him daily to the park.

It is a dull ache now. But it is there. With time, I know it shall fade but I do not want to forget these people who made my life in Northampton that much better with just a smile and a word.

It is with the move to New Jersey that I discover the deal with change. That it can club you with a baton. But there is the recognition too that it is simultaneously opening up the senses to new possibilities. New places. New people. New sensibilities. New home. It is after all a new continent as Osyth points out in all her wisdom.

While nursing a heavy heart, as I think continuously of Northampton and now making the leap to this new world (which I know is the beginning of big and beautiful), I have been blessed by your many kind words and gestures. In her perfect party girl series, where she is featuring bloggers, one at a time, the lovely Cheila put up a post with words that moved me, as did Angela with her quirky take on a ‘Have you met Ted?’ series (ref: How I met Your Mother), through which she introduces her readers to bloggers.

So you all who leave me such wonderful words to sit and guzzle in moments of weakness (and in which I find as much as comfort as I find in a bowl of Chinese noodles), You are an intrinsic part of this feeling called Home.

Below are photographs from an old-world town in New Jersey called Bayonne. We have found our little nook here this town of erstwhile Native Americans, peopled subsequently by masses of Irish workers. The latter erected a beautiful church, a 19th century affair, that rears its head impressively and makes you think of those glorious European churches that you have left behind. On weekends they have a string of stalls set up alongside the church and it is grandly referred to as the flea market. Old men walking their dogs, a few blocks away, ask with some fervour, “Is the flea market any good?” You smile and reply, “Why indeed it is.”

Bayonne is modest. It is so small a town that a handful of eateries can be found on one street. A few salons and a quaint gentlemen’s barber shops can be spotted in the quest for coffee. The last led us to Robert’s Cafe where the smell of coffee doused our senses with its richness. It happened to be a roastery, and yes, I thank thee o god of coffee for this wonderful little discovery. No Starbucks (or Starsucks as a friend calls it) here.

Last Saturday afternoon, we sat in between its faded walls of peach, watched a few old and young people trickle in, as we sipped on gourmet cups of coffee. Our reward for choosing Bayonne as home was this and a slice of apple crumble cheesecake with dollops of whipped cream on the side.

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Clouds billowing above the quiet township of Bayonne

 

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A Catholic church that was built to accommodate the Irish folk who needed their bit of haven after moving countries.
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The view of Bayonne and immediately beyond the skyline of New York (on the left) from our building.
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The rooftop where I foresee many afternoons and evenings of reading.
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The park in front of our building makes my feet itch to get going already
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It is the kind of park where you can spot a determined little girl chasing a squirrel…
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…and then waiting patiently, at the foot of the tree, for the squirrel to plop into her tiny hands. Great expectations.
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Meet Apple Crumble Cheesecake. And I hum alongside, ‘The Winner Takes it All…’ because it makes you feel like one, somehow.